One of the grandest victories scored by environmental types in California has been the battle to save Mono Lake at the eastern foot of the Sierra Nevada. Owens Lake, to the south, was obliterated by users in the Los Angeles basin, who simply appropriated virtually all the water that once flowed from the mountains into the lake (the easiest and most entertaining way to brush up on this story is to see the movie Chinatown).
The same thing was happening to Mono Lake, but a landmark lawsuit brought by the Audubon Society and a tenacious campaign by a tiny outfit known as the Mono Lake Committee stopped L.A. in its tracks, and Mono is more than holding its own.
The leader of the committee for most of the ’80s and ’90s was Martha Davis, energetic, tough-minded and tireless. Now, in a heartening twist, Davis has taken over as manager of water policy for the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, and is revolutionizing water management in the arid south.
She has helped institute programs to collect and save rainwater, to conserve in a big way, and to recycle and reuse water that previously was simply shunted to the ocean. A fine recent piece in the Los Angeles Times tells the story in detail. The paragraph that most struck me was this:
"When the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. studied potential water sources for the region last year, it concluded that increasing conservation, capturing storm water and recycling could yield roughly as much water as Southern California is receiving from the delta."
As anyone who has followed California environmental news knows, the delta is a major battleground, pitting farmers and domestic users against fishermen, with salmon and other aquated species in decline and farmers demanding that the Endangered Species Act be suspended so they can get on with wasting precious water.
A new report from the Pacific Institute, meanwhile, outlines how vast amounts of water can be saved in the agricultural sector, where the real problem lies. We’ll get into that in another post presently.